D-backs Keep Budding Superstar in Phoenix Part II
In the last blog post, we compared Justin Upton to some of the best young hitters historically, in this post we’ll compare this contract with the deals signed by some of the other young stars in the league.
Since the mid 1990s, it has become a common trend for teams to reach four-to-six year deals with players as they near free agency, in most cases buying out arbitration years and a year or two of free agency. Here is Upton’s deal compared to the deals signed by some of the other young stars of the game, sorted by the OPS each had with a similar amount of service time.
- – - – - – - – - – - Age – Service Time – - Years – - – OPS – - – Contract
Ryan Braun - – - – 24 – - – 1.129 – - – 2007-08 – - – .937 – - – 8 years (2008-15), $45M
Hanley Ramirez - 23 – - – 2.014 – - – 2005-07 – - – .889 – - – 6 years (2009-14), $70M
Evan Longoria - – 23 – - – 1.170 – - – 2008-09 – - – .883 – - – 6 years (2008-13), $17.5M
Justin Upton – - – 21 – - – 2.060 – - – 2007-09 – - – .836 – - 6 years (2010-15), $51.25M
Nick Markakis - – - 23 – - – 2.000 – - – 2006-07 – - – .826 – - 6 years (2009-14), $66.1M
Ryan Zimmerman 23 – - – 2.032 – - – 2005-07 – - – .812 – - – 5 years (2009-13), $45M
Troy Tulowitzki - – 23 – - – 2.033 – - – 2006-08 – - – .781 – - – 6 years (2008-13), $31M
It should probably be noted here that Longoria’s number is significantly smaller than the rest, but he signed his contract when he was just six days into his Major League career, so he gave up less in terms of arbitration plus free agency time than the rest.
A few other notable position players with similar deals include Dustin Pedroia (6 years, $40.5M), Kevin Youkilis (4 years, $41.125M), David Wright (6 years, $55M), Jose Reyes (4 years, $23M), Jimmy Rollins (5 years, $40M), Carl Crawford (6 years, $33.25M after two exercised options), Robinson Cano (4 years, $30M plus another two options worth $29M).
There is always some risk in a long-term deal of course, but the bet the team is making is that this may cost the organization less in the long run than if they waited, played the years out, and watched the player blossom into an All-Star. In a case of a team waiting longer to extend a player, the Braves extended Andruw Jones five years into his big league career back in 2002, and paid $75M over six years to do it. The Phillies signed Chase Utley after three-plus years of big league service and worked out an $85M deal over seven years. The Twins signed Justin Morneau with nearly identical service time to Utley for $80M over six years. They also signed Joe Mauer to a $33M contract over four years, but didn’t buy out any free agency time.
The most recent example of a player playing out significantly more service time — and a guy who is fairly comparable to Upton offensively — is Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera, who had amassed nearly five years of service time before signing an eight year contract worth $152.3 million.
The key is timing – the closer a player is to free agency, the closer the contract will be to an open-market deal. The goal for the team is signing the contract early enough that the club potentially saves some money in the long term, but not too early as to risk a player not developing as expected.
In this case, comparing Upton’s ability and his contract with his peers, it seems that Upton made the right decision in establishing some significant security this early in his career, and the D-backs made the right decision in guaranteeing themselves eight years of control for one of the best young players in the game while still having enough financial flexibility to work out long-term deals with some of the other young stars on the team.